Ireland won the toss and elected to bowl first in the final game of the five-match series, making an excellent start thanks to an opening burst from Player of the Match Mark Adair.
After a quiet first over from Josh Little, Hazratullah Zazai looked to have got Afghanistan moving with two consecutive boundaries, the first streakily skewed past point, and the second smoked through the covers. However, Adair struck back, enticing the explosive opener to miscue high into the air, with Simi Singh taking the catch at mid-off. Three balls later, he claimed another, Rahmanullah Gurbaz poking outside off and edging through to the keeper.
Little snuck through a second quiet over before Adair struck again, once more hitting back after a first-ball boundary. This time he was cut through point by Ibrahim Zadran before bouncing out the No.3, a cue-end flying to short third man, where Barry McCarthy claimed an excellent diving catch.
Afghanistan found themselves 26-3 after four overs and took their time to rebuild. The ball only reached the fence once in the next five overs, and that came courtesy of an overthrow reaching the boundary. With nine overs gone, Afghanistan were 42-3, scoring at a tick over 4.5 runs per over.
The tourists changed tack as Simi Singh was introduced, with Usman Ghani, previously becalmed on eight off 21, smashing 20 runs off the 10th over of the innings, with a pair each of fours and sixes giving Afghanistan a much-needed boost.
Andrew Balbirnie turned to Little in pursuit of a breakthrough, and the left-armer obliged. Two short balls dismissed Najibullah Zadran and Mohammad Nabi in the space of two balls, with Lorcan Tucker completing the catches on both occasions. The second was a special effort, with the keeper running forward and taking a one-handed grab inches from the turf to see off the Afghanistan captain.
Once again Afghanistan rebuilt, putting on 29 in the next four overs to lay the platform for the last five overs. However, it was at this point that the rain fell, and with the score reading 95-5, a lengthy delay curtailed the first innings, also lopping off 13 overs from the reply.
That left Ireland needing 56 runs in seven overs for a series win, a last-lap sprint to the finish befitting a contest between two sides jockeying for supremacy. And even in the space of 42 balls there was space for a twist or two.
Afghanistan began strongly, a four and a six bookending the otherwise boundaryless first 12 balls, and after Mujeeb Ur Rahman claimed the wicket of Andrew Balbirnie, pinned lbw, and conceded just six runs from the third over, the required rate had ticked from seven an over to nine an over.
Rashid Khan was introduced and tempted Paul Stirling with a tossed-up delivery. The opener took the bait, but successfully so, smashing high over long-on. When Lorcan Tucker shuffled and smashed the first ball of Mujeeb’s next over up and over the leg-side, Ireland were well on top. But the dismissal of Stirling brought Afghanistan back into it. He holed out off Mujeeb, having become the fourth man in history to the milestone of 3,000 T20I runs during his innings.
Harry Tector punched his first ball, a low full toss, through the covers for four, to ease the Irish nerves but the dismissal of Tucker, mistiming a slog sweep off Rashid, put the game back in the balance.
But it was Ireland who held firm. Some scampered ones and twos brought the requirement down to five needed from four, with a sweetly timed George Dockrell pull shot finding the fence to all but confirm the result. One ball later, victory was sealed with two deliveries to spare, giving Ireland a 3-2 series win.
George Dockrell was named Player of the Series for his unbeaten batting exploits having scored 141 runs across five innings without being dismissed.
Ireland v Afghanistan, 5th T20I, Stormont, Belfast, 17 August 2022
Afghanistan 95-5 (15 overs; U Ghani 44*, A Omarzai 15*; M Adair 3-16)
Ireland 56-3 (6.4 overs; P Stirling 16, L Tucker 14; M Rahman 2-17)
Ireland won by seven wickets with two balls remaining (DLS Method)
Andrew Balbirnie , the Ireland captain: It’s been a long summer, with the results not really going our way. We knew there was an opportunity if we played good cricket to come away with a series win. We started really well last week. They got back into it, but to come out and put on a performance like that, particularly, with the ball…rain obviously played it’s part, but our bowlers were on top today.
[On the seaming quarter] We are very lucky that we have a number of top quality seamers to pick from. The guys missing out could also come in. We’ve just got a great group there and are doing some great things. Our squad is getting bigger and there are people putting pressure on other guys. There’s been standout performances from so many different people, which is what you want to see.
Onwards and upwards. [On the target] We knew we had to start pretty well, and 10 wickets in the hut is always good. We came with a clear plan. Always tricky when you are chasing a total like that but great clarity from the guys. [On George Dockrell] He has been playing brilliantly all summer. He hits the ball very straight, he is hard to bowl to, so very lucky to have him in our team. [On the series win] They don’t come around too often. We won in the Caribbean for the first time. I don’t think we have beaten AFG in a T20 series ever, so it is big for this group, but we have got a big challenge in October in Australia. We will enjoy this but we have got a job to do.
Mohammad Nabi, the Afghanistan captain is up next: [On DLS] We can’t control the weather, it is part of cricket. We threw early wickets and were under pressure, but if it was a full game, the result would have been changed.
[On the positives] The boys are improving day by day in both batting and bowling and in the field. It is a part of the game, the weather and DLS changed the game here. Both ball and bat are important and also fielding is very important. We are improving in the field, day by day. As a bowling group, Rash (Rashid Khan) and Mujeeb bowled really well in the whole series. We have enjoyed out time here, it has been brilliant.
George Dockrell is the Player of the Series : Really enjoying this new role that I have taken on this year and it is nice to chip in and gets a few wins under the belt. [On hitting straight] I have always hit the ball straight, whenever I have played but and I am doing it with a bit of power. It is something that I am still working on. Great that it is coming off and it is great that I am contributing to some important wins.
[The batting line-up and his role] I really enjoy it. We have got a real license to go out and take our options early and be positive and try and execute things that we have trained. We are doing that really well. We have learnt a huge amount as the games have gone on this summer. We are in a really good place to go on and win a series like this against a team like Afghanistan, who I reckon have so much fire-power with the bat and ball. It’s been a fantastic Irish summer and hopefully we can carry on.
Mark Adair is the Player of the Match: [On the win] We have been pretty good as a unit, and today it came out well. [On the bowling plan] Bowling in the powerplay can be difficult at times, but you have two fielders out and you try to bowl to your field. [On the intent] That’s led by everyone.
There are chats before the games, there are chats all throughout the series, and I think bringing the intensity into the field is non-negotiable. You can do that with the ball in hand. [On the series win] It’s been a long summer, plenty of ups and downs and it is nice to finish with a win.